Q&A with Ultra Runner Lissa Ballinger

John Perko
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New Balance and RootsRated have teamed up to profile runners making a difference in their communities. We asked each of our runners a series of questions to learn a little more about what running means to them, where they like to run and what are some of their running goals.

Aspen resident Lissa Ballinger has what some would describe as an unorthodox approach to trail running – she doesn’t follow a rigid training plan, and her friends joke that she’s like a camel because she doesn’t need very much water on the route. Nevertheless, she’s become well known in the local running community for impressive finishes in races like the Imogene Pass Run. Ballinger speaks with RootsRated about what makes her tick.

Do you follow any sort of specific training regimen?
Not really. As soon as it becomes a structured burden, I don’t want to do it. For better or worse, I don’t train for anything. It’s why I will never be a strong finisher. My success is judged by how I feel. If I finish and I feel great, then it’s a success.

What about a specific diet?
I definitely try to eat healthy, and I’m eating vegetarian. I’m not gluten free – I wish I could eat bread for every single meal of my life. And I went to see a nutritionist for the first time this year. I feel like the nutrition is a huge part of running, and the more I learn about it, the more interesting it is.

What kind of snacks do you bring to refuel on the trail?
I’ve learned that anything I have to chew doesn’t work, because I can’t breathe and chew at the same time. I like Honey Stingers Organic Energy Chews because they can can slide down my throat, and I don’t have to chew them. Pink lemonade is my favorite flavor.

Do you have any running quirks?
I’m an odd one – I don’t drink a lot of water, which is lucky because I don’t have to carry a lot of it, which is heavy. Everyone who knows me always jokes around that I’m like a camel. But it’s not a point of pride at all – I’m not trying to prove anything. It’s just that different people need different amounts of water. I’ll go for a two-hour run and I won’t bring any water. But I know that doesn’t work for most people, so I don’t want to encourage that in any way.

Ballinger came in 8th in women in the 2009 Imogene Pass Run.
Ballinger came in 8th in women in the 2009 Imogene Pass Run. Peter Davidson

Some runners enjoy a reward meal or adult beverages after a long run or race – do you share that sentiment?
I think for me it’s more about fantasizing about it before the run ends, and then when it ends I have no appetite for it. I’ll be on the course talking about having a beer, or thinking about having a big meal, and then I finish and I’m not hungry at all. I’ve found that more than anything I’m sort of nauseous after a long run and have to force myself to stretch. But then I get really hungry about two days later, and I’m craving things like French fries and ice cream.

What goes through your mind after you finish a big race?
I have an immediate endorphin rush after a race, and then I get really sad and sort of despondent. I actually think a lot of people do. I feel like the training for me is so much more than the race, and then it’s like finishing a great book – you don’t want it to end, and then when it does, it’s kind of sad.

What’s next on the horizon for you?
I’m thinking about a run in Zion National Park, the 50k. And I also would love to do a new event that just started this year, a run version of a ski-mountaineering [endurance] race called the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. You take the old mail route from Crested Butte to Aspen. I’ve done the ski mountaineering event before, but the new 40-mile run is also tempting.

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